Uinta Taps Into Local Artists’ Creativity with The Crooked Line

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Leia Bell, the local artist behind the label art of Uinta's Tilted Smile and Detour Double IPA for the Crooked Line. Photo: Barrett Doran

Salt Lake City has become the unlikely location of a meticulously fashioned merger between a vibrant art scene and a competitive craft brewing community.  Uinta Brewing has been long revered for its perfectly balanced selection of beers, but now it is tipping the scales with the continuation of its Crooked Line. The Crooked Line is the lovechild of Uinta president, Will Hamill, and his band of brewers. The line is a unique representation of what happens when traditional methods take unexpected turns and become something brave and exciting. The beers of the Crooked Line are years in the making and were created to do something adventurous with the brewing process and as Hamill put it, “to color outside the lines a bit.” 

In SLUG Magazine’s 2010 Beer Issue, SLUG writer Jesse Hawlish put together an initial profile on Uinta’s array of delightful libations and highlighted the preparation that went into the brewing of the Crooked Line.  However, equally as interesting as the actual brewing of the beer is the method Uinta went through to ensure that the spirit of the line was maintained even through its packaging.  The creative initiative of Hamill and his company is amazing, and their dedication to innovation accentuates their product as a whole. 

“The Crooked Line is a blank piece of canvas to make some fun beers with fun names and [work with] fun local artists,” says Hamill.  Uinta wanted to deliver a superior brew to the beer-loving hoards in a way that few had done before.  Uinta’s marketing manager Lindsay Berk emphasized that “Uinta wanted to showcase that this is our artwork, as brewers, in the bottle, and it clicked that using a local artist for the label would be a neat thing to do.”  The idea of using commissioned artists for beer labels seems simple enough, but the process of tracking down the right artist at the right time is never easy. 

Surveying the local works of artists in the Salt Lake City area is a daunting task for even the most trained eyes, but the intuition held by the folks at Uinta allowed them to pinpoint three unique styles that fit their plan perfectly.  Leia Bell is a talented young mother who hails from Knoxville, Tennessee. Her background includes a degree in printmaking from the University of Utah, former co-owner of the infamous Kilby Court in downtown SLC and she currently runs the poster boutique, Signed and Numbered, in Sugarhouse.  Bell credits her current position as a poster artist to a serendipitous moment at the Flat Stock Poster Convention a number of years ago during the SXSW music conference.  Since 2003, she has been making a name for herself and impressing people around the country with her art.  “I had always liked Leia Bell’s art, and that was one reason we targeted her for our new line,” says Hamill.  Bell recollects on the moment that Uinta came to her frame shop and asked her to draw a few concepts for the new labels, “They wanted us to come up with sketches beers, all we were given were the names.”  After contacting Bell, the team pursued other local artists Travis Bone and Trent Call. Berk noted that once they had touched base with each artist and viewed their preliminary drawings, it was a matter of matching the artist’s particular style to the concept for each beer.  “As soon as we told Trent about our idea, you could tell his wheels began to spin and he wanted us to leave so he could get to work,” she says.

Developing a close relationship with its artists was critical to Uinta, and giving them creative control over the design process proved effective.  By simply presenting them with the names of the beer and letting each artist run with their initial idea of what would fit, the labels took on unanticipated directions.  “It was passed down that there needed to be a human element in each piece, and that was the last of the input they gave us,” says Bell.  The human element goes along with Uinta’s goal to make sure the Crooked Line maintained a more personal vibe that coincided with the spirit of the beers.  They wanted to communicate the essence of sharing and enjoyment through an elevated product that was more of an event than just a beverage.  The addition of local artists illustrated Uinta’s dedication to fostering a community and supporting the people around them—a philosophy that seems unique to their company. 

The three Utah-based artists’ backgrounds have overlapped for a number of years, and each of their pasts features some entertaining experiences. For example, Bone’s transition into the art game was quite unconventional.  “I liked art and drawing as a kid, but eventually figured out that I probably couldn’t make any money at it.  So I got a chemistry degree instead.  Although I want to set the record straight—I do not have a master’s degree in nano-chemistry,” says Bone, referring to a misprint in a different local publication.  Despite his training as a chemist, Travis found himself working at a local copy shop. It was there that he discovered his passion for graphic design and spent a good deal of time learning how to use the programs.  “Instead of doing boring tasks like facing shelves and stocking product, I learned how to be creative,” says Bone.  He also designed posters and t-shirts for the local bands he played in, further adding to his credibility as an artist. 

Although Call was classically trained as an artist, his inspirations and concepts are less than ordinary.  His mellow and humble attitude transmitted a deep appreciation for art and the creative process. Call says he followed various artful pursuits after receiving his painting and drawing degree from the University of Utah. While he continued to build his portfolio, Call was commissioned by Longoria Wines of California to design a label for their latest red wine.  “It was fun working for them, but working for Uinta was a different experience in every way,” says Call.  He elaborated by emphasizing how Uinta wanted the artists to design the entire label, rather than just send in a painting and have them add text.  With the Crooked Line, the artists were able to incorporate the text with the image, and it became a uniform piece.  “My original concept for Labyrinth had some very clever text that was hidden in the image, but it was hard for the average person to see.  So I redesigned it to be easier to read and it came out great,” says Call. 

The three artists went through some revisions that honed in on what Uinta was trying to convey with the Crooked Line before reaching their final product.  “My concepts for Tilted Smile were to be kind of mysterious, that’s why the girl in the picture is cut off from the mouth up.  She also may or may not be drunk,” says Bell. She also designed the label for Detour, the Double IPA, and noted how the concepts from Uinta kept changing and she had to remain flexible with her designs.    Bone and Call also stated how their ideas for the labels transformed.  “I had a few designs in mind, but settled with the bearded man in the barrel.  Originally, I think I had a guy loading barrels of monkeys, and then a man standing outside the barrel, but my overall concept was to be simple at first glance and more complex the closer you looked,” says Bone.  Call reiterated how his text needed to be easier to read, but wanted the label to convey the message of “being kind of dark and mysterious, like a real labyrinth.” 

Overall, the interaction between the artists and the team at Uinta seemed incredibly upbeat and encouraging.  “To be able to see how good the finished product was and know we were involved with it was a great feeling,” says Bone.

While the Crooked Line has made quite an impact on the locals, it is no surprise to hear that the Crooked Line is selling in even greater amounts outside Utah.  “The initial public reaction was overwhelmingly positive,” says Vice President of Sales Steve Kuftinec. Plans to continue using art from Bell, Bone and Call, as well as other local artists, are in the works for upcoming brew labels. Keep an eye out for the latest rendition of the Crooked Line hitting stores later this year.  “We want to keep a good thing going, and the wood barreling really brings out the complexity and character of each beer,” says Hamill.  You can pick up one of Uinta’s tasty concoctions this summer at their brewing facility on 1722 South Fremont Drive—just remember to keep the spirit of the line intact and share it with those close to you.

Leia Bell, the local artist behind the label art of Uinta's Tilted Smile and Detour Double IPA for the Crooked Line. Photo: Barrett Doran Travis Bone with his label design for Uinta's Cockeyed Cooper Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine Ale for the Crooked Line. Photo: Barrett Doran Trent Call and his label design for  Uinta's Labyrinth Black Ale for the Crooked Line. Photo: Barrett Doran